Weekly Wire Xtra I was an NPR poet. In particular, I was an All Things Considered poet. All Things Considered would occasionally broadcast my poems in conjunction with news stories. One producer even commissioned a New Year's poem from me. "Imagine the Angels of Bread" aired on January 2, 1994, in the same broadcast as the news of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. But now I've been censored by All Things Considered and National Public Radio because I wrote a poem for them about Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Poem

The Bio

Mumia is an eloquent African American journalist convicted in the 1981 slaying of police officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia-under extremely dubious circumstances. Officer Faulkner was beating Mumia's brother with a flashlight when Mumia came upon the scene. In the ensuing confrontation, both Faulkner and Mumia were shot. Though Mumia had a licensed .38 caliber pistol in his taxi that night, and the gun was later found beside him, the initial judgment of the medical examiner who removed the fatal bullet was that it came from a .44 caliber weapon. Several witnesses claimed to see an unidentified gunman fleeing the scene, leaving both Faulkner and Mumia severely wounded in the street.

What happened in court was a tragic pantomime. The trial featured a prosecutor who tried Mumia for his radical politics, including his teenaged membership in the Black Panthers and his journalistic defense of MOVE. Witnesses were coached in their testimony or intimidated into silence by police, and the trial was presided over by a judge notorious for handing out death sentences to black defendants. In August 1995, Mumia came within ten days of being executed by lethal injection. He is seeking a new trial.

Enter NPR. In 1994, National Public Radio agreed to broadcast a series of Mumia's radio commentaries from death row. The Prison Radio Project produced the recordings that April. Suddenly, NPR canceled the commentaries under pressure from the right, particularly the Fraternal Order of Police and Senator Robert Dole. Mumia and the Prison Radio Project sued NPR on First Amendment grounds. That litigation is pending.

This April, I was contacted by the staff at All Things Considered, their first communication since my New Year's poem. Diantha Parker and Sara Sarasohn commissioned me to write a poem for National Poetry Month. The general idea was that the poem should be like a news story, with a journalistic perspective. They suggested I write a poem in response to a news story in a city I visited during the month. Parker called to obtain my itinerary so NPR could give me an assignment relevant to a particular city. Fatefully, they could think of no such assignment. But the idea had found a home in the folds of my brain.

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